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    July 2015

The road to smart India


The ambitious smart city project envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has caught the imagination of India Inc as well as foreign investors. As noted American author and filmmaker L Frank Baum in his famous novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz wrote -- “The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick” -- countries across the globe envisaged their interest to be a part of this great Indian developmental saga. Even as the entire world is going gaga over Modi’s dream project, the picture of an urban India is far from rosy. It is interesting to note that India does not have any clear-cut definition of a smart city, nor does it have any national policy on urbanization. 

Our Cover Story reflects the challenges India might have to face in an environment of policy vacuum. With huge expectations, inhibitions and euphoria surrounding the Smart Cities concept, Bureaucracy Today attempts to analyse the infrastructural, technological, governance and financial challenges and come up with possible ways to attain a ‘smart’ India. We also spoke to the Mayors of the world-class cities of Paris and Melbourne on the initiatives taken by them to make their cities “smarter”. 

However, we must remember that blindly aping the global cities may not work for India. We can draw inspiration from them but India must adopt its own model which is viable in terms of its finances and infrastructure. 

The smart city initiative will require commitment and persistence on the part of the Government over a long period of time. The authorities need to be aware of the latest relevant technologies and then devise tailor-made technologies to be used effectively in the Indian context taking into account the topography, location and natural resources of the area concerned. 

Apart from the infrastructural hurdles, red tape in the bureaucracy is also a major challenge India will have to address to realize the vision of smart cities. The lack of coordination among various departments and delay in giving administrative approvals are considered major obstacles in realizing the smart city dream. At present urban development projects need to undergo lengthy Government approval processes and a developer has to spend minimum two-three years in getting permissions from nearly 40 departments.  

To streamline the entire process of setting up smart cities, the Government can set up a central planning authority that would manage and provide single window clearances, monitor the progress of such projects and ensure compliance. 

There is a tremendous potential in India to build world-class smart cities which will not only generate employment opportunities but will also contribute to economic growth. How smartly we build, manage and operate these cities will be the biggest determinant of our future generation. It is time that the Government sets up a definite policy framework and makes this dream project a reality.
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